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require; but on nearing Keedysville, the strong opposition on the right, developed by the attacks of Hooker and Sumner, rendered it necessary at once to send this corps to the assistance of the right wing. On nearing the field, hearing that one of our batteries, (A,) 4th United States artillery, commanded by Lieutenant Thomas, who occupied the same position as Lieutenant Woodruff's battery in the morning, was hotly engaged without supports, General Smith sent two regiments to its relief from General Hancock's brigade. On inspecting the ground, General Smith ordered the other regiments of Hancock's brigade, with Frank's and Cowen's batteries, 1stNew York artillery, to the threatened position. Lieutenant Thomas, and Cap tain Cothran, commanding batteries, bravely held their positions against the advancing enemy, handling their batteries with skill. Finding the enemy still advancing, the 3d brigade, of Smith's division, commanded by Colonel Irwin, 49th Pennsylvania volunteers, was ordered up, and passed through Lieutenant. Thomas's battery, charged upon the enemy, and drove back the advance until abreast of the Dunker church. As the right of the brigade came opposite the woods it received a destructive fire, which checked the advance and threw the brigade somewhat into confusion. It formed again behind a rise of ground in the open space in advance of the batteries. General French having reported to General Franklin that his ammunition was nearly expended, that officer ordered General Brooks, with his brigade, to re-enforce him. General Brooks formed his brigade on the right of General French, where they remained during the remainder of the day and night, frequently under the fire of the enemy's artillery. It was soon after the brigade of Colonel Irwin had fallen back behind the rise of ground that the 7th Maine, by order of Colonel Irwin, made the gallant attack already referred to. The advance of General Franklin's corps was opportune. The attack of the enemy on this position, but for the timely arrival of his corps, must have been disastrous, had it succeeded in piercing the line between Generals Sedgwick's and French’s divisions. General Franklin ordered two brigades of General Slocum's division, General Newton's and Colonel Torbert's, to form in column to assault the woods that had been so hotly contested before by Generals Sumner and Hooker. General Bartlett's brigade was ordered to form as a reserve. At this time General Sumner, having command on the right, directed further offensive operations to be postponed, as the repulse of this, the only remaining corps available for attack, would peril the safety of the whole army. General Porter's corps, consisting of General Sykes's division of regulars and volunteers and General Morell's division of volunteers, occupied a position on the east side of Antietam creek, upon the main turnpike leading to Sharpsburg, and directly opposite the centre of the enemy's line. This corps filled the interval between the right wing and General Burnside's command, and guarded the main approach from the enemy's position to our trains of supply. It was necessary to watch this part of our line with the utmost vigilance, lest the enemy should take advantage of the first exhibition of weakness here to push upon us a vigorous assault, for the purpose of piercing our centre and turning our rear, as well as to capture or destroy our supply trains. Once having penetrated this line, the enemy's passage to our rear could have met with but feeble resistance, as there were no reserves to re-enforce or close up the gap. ord, the middle of the afternoon, proceeding to the right, I found that Sumner's, Hooker's, and Mansfield's corps had met with serious losses. Several general officers had been carried from the field severely wounded, and the aspect of affairs was anything but promising. At the risk of greatly exposing our centre, I ordered two brigades from Porter's corps, the only available troops, to re-enforce the right. Six battalions of Sykes's regulars had been thrown forward across the Antietam bridge on the main road to attack and drive back the enemy's sharpshooters, who were annoying Pleasonton's horse batteries in advance of the bridge; Warren's brigade, of Porter's corps, was detached to hold a position on Burnside's right and rear; so that Porter was left at one time with only a portion of Sykes's division and one small brigade of Morell’s division (but little over three thousand men) to hold his important position. General Sumner expressed the most decided opinion against another attempt during that day to assault the enemy's position in front, as portions of our troops were so much scattered and demoralized. In view of these circumstances, after making changes in the position of some of the troops, I directed the different commanders to hold their positions, and being satisfied that this could be done without the assistance of the two brigades from the centre, I countermanded the order, which was in course of execution. General Slocum's division replaced a portion of General Sumner's troops, and positions were selected for batteries in front of the woods. The enemy opened several heavy fires of artillery on the position of our troops after this, but our batteries soon silenced them. On the morning of the 17th General Pleasonton, with his cavalry division and the horse batteries, under Captains Robertson, Tidball, and Lieutenant Haines, of the 2d artillery, and Captain Gibson, 3d artillery, was ordered to advance on the turnpike towards Sharpsburg, across bridge No. 2, and support the left of General Sumner's line. The bridge being covered by a fire of artillery and sharpshooters, cavalry skirmishers were thrown out, and Captain Tidball’s battery advanced by piece and drove off the sharpshooters with canister sufficiently to establish the batteries above mentioned, which opened on the enemy with effect. The firing was kept up for about two hours, when, the enemy's fire slackening, the batteries were relieved by Randall's and Van Reed's batteries, United States artillery. About 3 o'clock Tidball, Robertson, and Haines returned to their positions on the west of Antietam, Captain Gibson having been placed in position on the east side to guard the approaches to the bridge. These batteries did good service, concentrating their fire on the column of the enemy about to attack General Hancock's position, and compelling it to find shelter behind the hills in rear. General Sykes's division had been in position since the 15th, exposed to the enemy's artillery and sharpshooters. General Morell had come up on the 16th, and relieved General Richardson on the right of General Sykes. Continually, under the vigilant watch of the enemy, this corps guarded a vital point. The position of the batteries under General Pleasonton being one of great exposure, the battalion of the 2d and 10th United States infantry, under Captain Poland, 2d infantry, was sent to his support. Subsequently four battalions of regular infantry, under Captain Dryer, 4th infantry, were sent across to assist in driving off the sharpshooters of the enemy. The battalion of the 2d and 10th infantry, advancing far beyond the batteries, compelled the cannoneers of a battery of the enemy to abandon their guns. Few in numbers, and unsupported, they were unable to bring them off. The heavy loss of this small body of men attests their gallantry. The troops of General Burnside held the left of the line opposite bridge No. 3. The attack on the right was to have been supported by an attack on the left. Preparatory to this attack, on the evening of the 16th, General Burnside's corps was moved forward and to the left, and took up a position nearer the bridge. I visited General Burnside's position on the 16th, and after pointing out to him the proper dispositions to be made of his troops during the day and night, informed him that he would probably be required to attack the enemy's right on the following morning, and directed him to make careful reconnoissances.
General Burnside's corps, consisting of the divisions of Generals Cox, Wilcox, Rodman, and Sturgis, was posted as follows: Colonel Brooks's brigade, Cox's division, on the right, General Sturgis's division immediately in rear. On the left was General Rodman's division, with General Scammon's brigade, Cox's division, in support. General Wilcox's division was held in reserve. The corps bivouacked in position on the night of the 16th. Early on the morning of the 17th I ordered General Burnside to form his troops, and hold them in readiness to assault the bridge in his front, and to await further orders. At 8 o'clock an order was sent to him by Lieutenant Wilson, topographical engineers, to carry the bridge, then to gain possession of the heights beyond, and to advance along their crest upon Sharpsburg and its rear. After some time had elapsed, not hearing from him, I despatched an aid to ascertain what had been done. The aid returned with the information that but little progress had been made. I then sent him back with an order to General Burnside to assault the bridge at once, and carry it at all hazards. The aid returned to me a second time with the report that the bridge was still in the possession of the enemy. Whereupon I directed Colonel Sackett, inspector general, to deliver to General Burnside my positive order to push forward his troops without a moment's delay, and, if necessary, to carry the bridge at the point of the bayonet; and I ordered Colonel Sackett to remain with General Burnside and see that the order was executed promptly. After these three hours' delay, the bridge was carried at one o'clock by a brilliant charge of the 51st New York and 51st Pennsylvania volunteers. Other troops were then thrown over, and the opposite bank occupied, the enemy retreating to the heights beyond. A halt was then made by General Burnside's advance until 3 p. m., upon hearing which, I directed one of my aids, Colonel Key, to inform General Burnside that I desired him to push forward his troops with the utmost vigor, and carry the enemy's position on the heights; that the movement was vital to our success; that this was a time when we must not stop for loss of life, if a great object could thereby be accomplished. That if, in his judgment, his attack would fail, to inform me so at once, that his troops might be withdrawn and used elsewhere on the field. He replied that he would soon advance, and would go up the hill as far as a battery of the enemy on the left would permit. Upon this report, I again immediately sent Colonel Key to General Burnside with orders to advance at once, if possible to flank the battery, or storm it and carry the heights; repeating that if he considered the movement impracticable, to inform me so, that his troops might be recalled. The advance was then gallantly resumed, the enemy driven from the guns, the heights handsomely carried, and a portion of the troops even reached the outskirts of Sharpsburg. By this time it was nearly dark, and strong re-enforcements just then reaching the enemy from Harper's Ferry, attacked General Burnside's troops on their left flank, and forced them to retire to a lower line of hills nearer the bridge. • If this important movement had been consummated two hours earlier, a position would have been secured upon the heights, from which our batteries might have enfiladed the greater part of the enemy's line, and turned their right and rear; our victory might thus have been much more decisive. The following is the substance of General Burnside's operations as given in his report: - - Colonel Crook's brigade was ordered to storm the bridge. This bridge, No. 3, is a stone structure of three arches with stone parapets. The banks of the stream on the opposite side are precipitous, and command the eastern approaches to the bridge. §. the hill-side, immediately by the bridge, was a stone fence running parallel to the stream; the turns of the roadway, as it wound up the
hill, were covered by rifle-pits and breastworks of rails, &c. These works, and the woods that covered the slopes, were filled with the enemy's riflemen, and batteries were in position to enfilade the bridge and its approaches. General Rodman was ordered to cross the ford below the bridge. From Colonel Crook's position it was found impossible to carry the bridge. General Sturgis was ordered to make a detail from his division for that purpose. He sent forward the 2d Maryland and the 6th New Hampshire. These regiments made several successive attacks in the most gallant style, but were driven back. The artillery on the left were ordered to concentrate their fire on the woods above the bridge. Colonel Crook brought a section of Captain Simmons's battery to a position to command the bridge. The 51st New York and 51st Pennsylvania were then ordered to assault the bridge. Taking advantage of a small spur of the hills which ran parallel to the river, they moved towards the bridge. From the crest of this spur they rushed with bayonets fixed and cleared the bridge. . division followed the storming party, also the brigade of Colonel Crook's as a support. The enemy withdrew to still higher ground, some five or six hundred yards beyond, and opened a fire of artillery on the troops in the new position on the crest of the hill above the bridge. General Rodman's division succeeded in crossing the ford after a sharp fire of musketry and artillery, and joined on the left of Sturgis, Scammon's brigade crossing as support. General Wilcox's division was ordered across to take position on General Sturgis's right. These dispositions being completed about 3 o'clock, the command moved forward, except Sturgis's division, left in reserve. Clark's and Durell's batteries accompanied Rodman's division; Cook's battery with Wilcox's division, and a section of Simmons's battery with Colonel Crook's brigade. A section of Simmons's battery and Mullenburgh's and McMullan's batteries were in position. The order for the advance was obeyed by the troops with alacrity. General Wilcox's division, with Crook in support, moved up on both sides of the turnpike leading from the bridge to Sharpsburg, General Rodman's division, supported by Scammon's brigade, on the left of General Wilcox. The enemy retreated before the advance of the troops. The 9th New York, of General Rodman's division, captured one of the enemy's batteries and held it for some time. As the command was driving the enemy to the main heights on the left of the town, the light division of General A. P. Hill arrived upon the field of battle from Harper's Ferry, and with a heavy artillery fire made a strong attack on the extreme left. To meet this attack the left division diverged from the line of march intended, and opened a gap between it and the right. To fill up this it was necessary to order the troops from the second line. During these movements General Rodman was mortally wounded. Colonel Harland's brigade, of General Rodman's division, was driven back. Colonel Scammon's brigade, by a change of front to rear on his right flank, saved the left from being driven completely in. The fresh troops of the enemy pouring in, and the accumulation of artillery against this command, destroyed all hope of its being able to accomplish anything more. It was now nearly dark. General Sturgis was ordered forward to support the left. Notwithstanding the hard work in the early part of the day, his division moved forward with spirit. With its assistance the enemy were checked and held at bay. The command was ordered to fall back by General Cox, who commanded on the field the troops engaged in this affair beyond the Antietam. The artillery had been well served during the day. Night closed the long and desperately contested battle of the 17th. Nearly two hundred thousand men and five hundred pieces of artillery were for fourteen hours engaged in this memorable battle.
We had attacked the enemy in a position selected by the experienced engineer then in person directing their operations. We had driven them from their line on one flank, and secured a footing within it on the other. The army of the Potomac, notwithstanding the moral effect incident to previous reverses, had, achieved a victory over an adversary invested with the prestige of recent success. Our soldiers slept that night conquerors on a field won by their valor and covered with the dead and wounded of the enemy. The night, however, brought with it grave responsibilities. Whether to renew. the attack on the 18th, or to defer it, even with the risk of the enemy's retirement, was the question before me. After a night of anxious deliberation and a full and careful survey of the situation and condition of our army, the strength and position of the enemy, I concluded that the success of an attack on the 18th was not certain. I am aware of the fact that, under ordinary circumstances, a general is expected to risk a battle if he has a reasonable prospect of success; but at this critical juncture I should have had a narrow view of the condition of the country had I been willing to hazard another battle with less than an absolute assurance of success. At that moment—Virginia lost, Washington menaced, Maryland invaded—the national cause could afford no risks of defeat. One battle lost, and almost all would have been lost. Lee's army might then have marched as it pleased on Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, or New York. It could have levied its supplies from a fertile and undevastated country; extorted tribute from wealthy and populous cities; and nowhere east of the Alleghanies was there another organized force able to arrest its march. f The following are among the considerations which led me to doubt the certainty of success in attacking before the 19th: The troops were greatly overcome by the fatigue and exhaustion attendant upon the long continued and severely contested battle of the 17th, together with the long day and night marches to which they had been subjected during the previous three days. The supply trains were in the rear, and many of the troops had suffered from hunger. They required rest and refreshment. One division of Sumner's and all of Hooker's corps, on the right, had, after fighting most valiantly for several hours, been overpowered by numbers, driven back in great disorder, and much scattered, so that they were for the time somewhat demoralized. In Hooker's corps, according to the return made by General Meade, commanding, there were but 6,729 men present on the 18th; whereas, on the morning of the 22d, there were 13,093 men present for duty in the same corps, showing that previous to and during the battle 6,364 men were separated from their command. General Meade, in an official communication upon this subject, dated September 18, 1862, says:
“I enclose a field return of the corps made this afternoon, which I desire you will lay before the commanding general. I am satisfied the great reduction in the corps since the recent engagements is not due solely to the casualties of battle, and that a considerable number of men are still in the rear, some having dropped out on the march, and many dispersing and leaving yesterday during the fight. I think the efficiency of the corps, so far as it goes, good. To resist an attack in our present strong position I think they may be depended on, and I hope they will perform duty in case we make an attack, though I do not think their morale is as good for an offensive as a defensive movement.”
One division of Sumner's corps had also been overpowered, and was a good deal scattered and demoralized. It was not deemed by its corps commander in . proper condition to attack the enemy vigorously the next day. *